Telstra kicks off national Wi-Fi trial

Telstra has kicked off the free trial of its national public Wi-Fi network, with 150 sites around Australian set to come online by Christmas.

Sydney's Hyde Park, Federation Square in Melbourne, and Brisbane's King George Square are among 150 sites around Australia where Telstra is switching on its new free public Wi-Fi network trial, with 100 towns and cities set to see the network rollout by Christmas.

Starting from November 19, people will be able to access the trial network, which Telstra says will offer users 30 minutes of free access with download speeds of up to 2Mbps.

The company's public Wi-Fi network, first announced in May , is set to be rolled out across Australia over the next four years, at a cost of over AU$100 million. Telstra is looking to roll out approximately 8,000 hotspots across the country, using existing infrastructure such as public payphones to accommodate the Wi-Fi router.

Telstra plans to officially launch the network nationally and emerge from its trial period early next year, at which time non-Telstra customers will be required to pay a fee to access the network.

Telstra customers' home Wi-Fi networks will eventually become part of the public Wi-Fi network, with the company also rolling out its new Gateway Max modem, which possesses the functionality to allow a home network to be used as a public hotspot for others in range.

It is expected that at the completion of the rollout, the network will encompass over 2 million hotspots across Australia, and eventually offer users access to over 13 million Fon-enabled dual-access wireless networks globally.

Telstra WiFi
Telstra's new Wi-Fi hotspot in Sydney's Hyde Park. Image: Leon Spencer/ZDNet

"This trial marks the beginning of our ambition to switch on more than 2 million hotspots across the nation over five years, and give customers the best Wi-Fi experience in and out of the home,” said Telstra Retail group executive Gordon Ballantyne.

"We want customers to have greater options for connecting when they're out and about. From browsing the web, streaming videos, or sharing photos with friends, we want customers to have a taste of what the network will be like next year, when Telstra Wi-Fi members will be able to use their home broadband allowance at the hotspots," he said.

At a launch event in Sydney on Wednesday, Telstra representatives said that the free trial is not only being used as a way to trial different technology approaches for the national Wi-Fi network rollout, but also to entice Telstra customers to use the bundled service, while also converting non-Telstra customers.

"Moving forward, the reason why it's going to be a free product for Telstra fixed broadband users is really to attract them to stay with the company. And we may attract new customers who might find our network a bit differentiated over everybody else," said Telstra head of Wi-Fi, Neil Louis. "At the moment, it's only a trial network, we want to trial different technologies. We've got to recognise that it is a trial and at times things will go wrong, but that's the purpose of it being a trial."

Telstra Wi-Fi program lead, networks, Peter Ager, who was also at the event, said that although the trial network will be unsecured , as are most open networks, the company would be looking at solutions to protect users' data.

"We are working through a security solution for the Wi-Fi network, but that won't be ready probably until the second quarter of next calendar year, so at the moment it is just an open network. But we do realise we need to get a security solution in place," he said.

In September last year, New Zealand's national telco Spark — then Telecom New Zealand — began converting its public phone boxes into Wi-Fi hotpsots, as part of a national Wi-Fi service.

Meanwhile, New York has launched a new city plan, dubbed LinkNYC, which will see the replacement of public pay telephones with consoles that will provide free public Wi-Fi. The city's goal is to install up to 10,000 of these so-called links across its five boroughs by the end of next year.

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